Nothing About Us Without Us

storytelling from a burned town, lesbians in Seattle, and Appalachia

ROCK PAPER RADIO is a dispatch for misfits & unlikely optimists by your favorite hapa haole, beet-pickling, public radio nerd. It’s a weekly email newsletter that shares three curiosities every Thursday - something to hold on to, something to read, and something to listen to. Themes include but are not limited to: rebel violinists, immortal jellyfish, revolution. Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word.
This is one of my favorite contrarians, Mellina White. She’s biracial and gay and she’s also the Libertarian blogger behind The Seattle Conservative. She’s exactly the kind of misfit and unlikely optimist ROCK PAPER RADIO is here for. To see more portraits of fascinating and dapper lesbians, click here. Photo credit: downtown Seattle, October 2020, Kristin Leong.


If you’ve been tempted recently to watch the newly-released Hillbilly Elegy (either by the lure of poverty porn, or by the enraged tweets on the problem of the film’s poverty porn) might I recommend reading Lost in a (Mis)Gendered Appalachia by Leah Hampton instead.

Unlike Hillbilly Elegy’s author J.D. Vance, Hampton did not leave Appalachia to attend Yale, become a venture capitalist, and write a bestselling book that essentially tells the countless people trapped in generational poverty to stop being so lazy and addicted to painkillers.

Instead of storytelling from the perch a Yale law degree provides, Hampton writes from inside. She still lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains; and in this sprawling, spitfire essay, she invites us into her home, offers us a drink of whatever she’s having, and then takes us to school. Behold:

“Friends who visit from cities and overseas ask me to show them the “real” Appalachia; they ask for moonshine, kudzu jelly, banjo lessons. They visit truck stops and purchase stars ’n bars belt buckles—ironically, they assure me. They come here, in short, to feel like men.

And y’all, I have had it with that shit.

Yes, it’s true that Appalachia has no shortage of flag-waving dipshits. I do not deny that a lot of my neighbors vote and behave abominably. But by reducing us to clichés, by ignoring our best and brightest, we render all but the worst of this place irrelevant. And thus do we passively endorse our exploiters fracking and blasting the true Appalachia out of existence.”

Come for the rarely-told history of Nina Simone’s rural roots, but stay for the patriarchy-crushing critique of stereotypes built on Truck Nutz and moonshine.


Over Labor Day weekend this year, a fire raged through Eastern Washington, destroying thousands of acres. The small town of Malden lost 80% of its buildings in that fire, including homes and the town’s city hall. All 300 Malden residents were forced to evacuate.

In this 17-minute episode of The Record, Residents are still awaiting help months after wildfires blitzed Eastern Washington, KUOW host Bill Radke talks with Scott Hokonson, Malden’s council-member who is leading the restoration efforts*.

For the first half of the conversation, Hokonson is professional in his critique of how lack of federal support has left his town abandoned, but then there’s a curious shift. About halfway though, Hokonson tells us that only 24 homes in Malden were spared by the fire. Host Bill Radke interjects here to ask Hokonson about his own home. We find out that it was one of the ones that burned down.

Hokonson is lovely and determined before this question, but after that moment there’s a humanity in his voice and stories that we don’t often hear from elected officials on public radio.

When asked what the future might look like for Malden, Hokonson responds with optimism: he believes the town can be rebuilt, that it’s worthy to be rebuilt. As we head into 2021 with a new administration, Hokonson’s voice might be a good one to lead the way.


Ben Shapiro now has a Christmas-themed lesbian romcom on Netflix to rant against; many mainstream media outlets seem to be making an earnest effort to understand the harm of deadnaming in response to Elliot Page’s coming out; and the U.S. Congress is queerer than ever. It seems, in short, that we’re experiencing a rainbow-colored renaissance.

Not one to be left out of the great queer awakening, for the past ten weeks I’ve been following around my dapper friends and supermodel wife with my camera for my Photographic Center Northwest final project: SHE/HER: Portraits of Seattle Lesbians.

If you’re a lesbian in Seattle, or know someone who is, reach out. I’d love to take your picture (in a masked, socially distant manner) and hear about why and when you choose to use the controversial L-word from our ever-expanding LGBTQIA+ acronym to describe yourself.


That’s a wrap for issue 19, friends. The holiday season is here to eat us alive, so let’s all stay in touch. Next week I’ll be sharing ROCK PAPER RADIO’s 2020 gift guide. Spoiler alert: It’s all books. If you have a great read that should be on the list, let me know.

See you next Thursday.



*At the end of his KUOW interview, Scott Hokonson shared two organizations that are currently accepting donations to support the town of Malden during this crisis: the United Way of Whitman County and the Innovia Foundation.

**A note on today’s newsletter headline: nothing about us without us is a historic slogan used to underscore the importance of having people fully and directly participate in the creation and evaluation of policies that impact them. Author James I. Charlton popularized this slogan in regards to the disability rights movement with the publication of his 2000 book that uses the slogan as its title.

You can find ROCK PAPER RADIO on Instagram and Twitter @RockPaperRadio. You can help spread the word about our community of misfits and unlikely optimists by sharing this issue on the social medias with a comment that says SUBSCRIBE TO THIS NEWSLETTER AND NEVER FEEL WEIRD AGAIN. Or something like that.